I have found the cure for pre-holiday anxiety: invite a Swedish baker to your house and let her fill your kitchen with warm smells. This discovery came by way of cookbook illustrator Johanna Kindvall, who arrived by bus from Brooklyn this weekend with a rolling suitcase full of dough.
She also came with 2 loaves of rye bread, a round tin of homemade rye crisps, a pair of fun outfits (red-checked pants and a mushroom-patterened smock of her own design), a bottle of wine, a dozen illustrated prints, and 16 copies of her new book, written with Swedish food writer Anna Brones, Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break.
Ten minutes after Johanna arrived, we were sipping coffee in Reading Terminal Market and reviewing her list for last-minute groceries (almonds, raisins). Snip, snap, and we were trundling through my front door, whereupon she tied an apron around her waist, poured Champagne, and began blanching almonds. On went the oven, and out came the dough.
I put on some Nina Simone and rustled up my rolling pin.
Then I unwrapped some beautiful cheese.
I unrumpled a tablecloth from the basement and put on some Chapstick.
By 3:30, we were relaxing on the patio, my dining room table set for 15 mystery guests who had signed up to devour ginger cookies and blue cheese for Johanna’s book party, an event we called “Cheese and Fika” — Fika is a Swedish coffee hour. Mulled wine simmered on the stove, two cheese boards relaxed, and even the dog took a snooze.
When guests arrived, Johanna pulled out more tricks: she taught everyone how to light rummy mulled wine on fire, then demonstrated how to roll a rye cracker as thin as an eye patch.
Everyone sipped and nibbled, warm and cozy, happy and appreciative — what a lovely bunch of cheese lovers! (I feel inspired to begin a series of Sunday cheese salons. Hopefully, I can wrangle the time.)
Until this weekend, I have admired Johanna from afar — reading her illustrated food blog is one of my favorite ways to relax. But now. NOW, I know better. Why enjoy Johanna from afar when meeting her in person means that your whole world will smell like cloves?
Try This At Home: A Cheese and Fika Party
I have a new love of pairing cheese and Swedish bakery, thanks to Johanna. Her soft ginger cookies were so delicious shmeared with blue cheese, and her whisper-thin crispbread crackers were a revelation to me — so good with goat cheese and chutney, and so much better than storebought versions. I dream of keeping bins of them on my counters from now on. Johanna likes to serve her ginger cookies with butter. Decadent, and highly recommended, especially with a side of mulled wine or cardamom tea.
Treat yourself to a copy of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall (Ten Speed Press, 2015).
Pick out a few recipes for Swedish cookies, crackers, and bread: Pepparkakor (Swedish Gingersnaps, page 118), Mjuka Pepparkakor (Soft Ginger Cookies, page 122), Rye Bread (with anise and prunes, page 148), and Knackekex (Crispbread Crackers, 152). You can bake these a day or two ahead.
Prepare Flaming Glogg (Swedish Mulled Wine, page 126). This is the best I’ve ever tasted, thanks to the homemade spice-infused rum. When you add it to the warm wine, you can light it on fire and it sends up a purple flame. Cover it after a second so the goodness doesn’t burn off (!!) and float a few blanched almonds on each serving.
Select Inscrutable Cheeses: Try a soft goat, an Alpine, and a spreadable blue. Aged Cheddar is a terrific pairing for ginger cookies, Johanna says. We enjoyed a very stinky wheel of Rippleton with Johanna’s moist rye bread.
Ask Friends to Bring Fruit and Jam: Ask your guests to bring chutneys, jams, dried fruits, bowls of apples or pears. We were thrilled when Marisa McClellan of Foodinjars turned up with several jars of honey-sweetened jams from her forthcoming book, along with some pickled kohlrabi.
Until I read Heidi Swanson’s new cookbook, Near and Far, it never occurred to me to sprinkle popped sorghum and rose petals on yogurt. To use dairy as a canvas. To turn breakfast into an offering.
But here I am, using my extra hour of daylight to draw down my best clay bowl. To ladle out the local yogurt I love. Slicing oranges, separating pomegranate seeds, heating an iron skillet to toast grains that, ordinarily, I’d just boil.
The last months of traveling and teaching and editing a new book have left me feeling like a breathless dervish, to be honest. To relax, I read cookbooks in bed and flag pages that look restorative (bone broths, savory grain bowls) — it’s a very good sleep send-off.
Do I make the recipes? When they haunt me.
So many recipes in Near and Far inspire my veg and dairy-loving side: Salt-Baked Sweet Potato (page 52), Ricotta Breakfast Bowl with Flower Pepper (page 81), Chicory Soup with Creme Fraiche (130), Tartines with Sheep’s Milk Cheese (page 249).
I love when a cookbook hands me a passport to new places. In Near and Far, each chapter begins with a list of pantry items from a place — Morocco, Japan, Italy, France, India. The recipes that follow are loosely inspired by specific moments: a woman eating a dish of dal in a spice market, for example.
Photographs of dishes, of street scenes and tablescapes, set a mood and showcase the talents of writer and photographer Heidi Swanson. If you haven’t visited her blog, 101 Cookbooks, you must. It’s a…digital sanctuary. Does such a thing exist?
Do yogurt and dried rose petals go together?
Now they do.
Yogurt Bowl from Heidi Swanson’s Near & Far
I took a lot of liberties with this recipe, which is why I am giving you the original. Even with my substitutions — pomegranate molasses instead of fresh pomegranate juice, puffed sorghum and buckwheat in place of puffed quinoa cereal, pepitas in place of sunflower seeds, and oranges because I wanted extra acidity — the combination tasted glorious. I especially loved the silk-delicate dried rose petals, which melted into the dairy, and the nutty crunch of the grains.
2 tablespoons fresh pomegranate juice
A drizzle of honey
A dallop of Greek-style yogurt
A handful of puffed quinoa ceral
A sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds
Whole pomegranate seeds or fresh or dried rose petals (optional)
A bit of bee pollen (optional)
In a bowl, swirl the pomegranate and honey into the yogurt, then sprinkle with nuts and seeds.
If you want to try puffed sorghum and toasted buckwheat, which is what I used, it’s very easy. I’ve started tossing tossing them onto salads and soups.
Puffed Sorghum: Heat a dry skillet over medium heat, and when the pan is hot, add your sorghum grains. Cover with a lid and shake the pan often as the grains pop.
Toasted Buckwheat: Add a little oil to a warm skillet. Toss in the buckwheat and toast over medium heat, stirring frequently. They turn wonderfully crunchy in about a minute, and they taste very nutty.
Disclosure: I recently signed up to become a member of Blogging for Books, which provided me a complimentary copy of Near & Far. Ordinarily, I am not a joiner of things, but knew I wanted to review this book, and I was curious to explore the program. So far, so good.
For many years, I’ve been a loyal reader of Mary’s Diary — the blog written by Mary Quicke, maker of Quicke’s Traditional Cheddar. She posts monthly about her farm in Devon, England, and I’ve always been impressed by two things: her connection to the land and her stunning vocabulary. Well, it turns out Mary pursued a PhD in literature before committing herself to the family dairy.
I learned this when I visited her on a tour with Cheese Journeys earlier this month. We spent a day rambling around Mary’s gorgeous farm (she is 14th generation), ate an exquisite lunch in her new farm cafe, met her cows, toured the aging rooms, and zig-zagged through the gardens of her mother and late father, which are just up the road from where her cows graze.
The dessert Mary served us — a Pavlova made with meringue, whipped unpasteurized cream, and fresh berries from her yard — still looms large in my mind. Indeed, Devon still looms large in my mind, with its orchards, vineyards, lush meadows, and misty harbor towns. No wonder Mary writes such dreamy prose, so colorful and always packed with details about her pastures — what’s growing in them and how the root structure of her grasses are fingering down into the loam. (Pasture porn?)
If there’s one thing I learned from visiting a string of cheese makers on our 9-day odyssey, it’s that each maker has a wild tick. For some, it’s an obsession with keeping an immaculate cheese room (Will Atkinson of Hill Farm Dairy), for others the tick manifests in clever inventions to enhance their craft (Jamie Montgomery of Montgomery’s Cheddar). Mary Quicke is plum crazy for pastures.
Fast-talking and popping with energy, Mary practically leapt fences to show us the grazing area for her hybrid Montbeliarde and Kiwi Friesians. “It’s all about the grasses,” she kept saying, reaching down to snatch a fist full of greenery.
It made me think of how many American cheesemakers I know who obsessively study the butterfat and protein ratio in their milk — the outcome of feeding, in other words. Mary is a first-ingredient freak. She cares most about what her cows eat.
Interesting. I don’t think I’ll walk through a pasture the same way again.
To see an interactive album from our visit to Quicke’s Traditional Cheddar, check out my story on Steller. You can flip through it like a little diary. I’m using Steller, a platform much like Instagram, to share escapades from our trip — I like how Steller allows you to create albums by uploading photos and videos from your phone. Once you “publish” your story, you can share it across platforms.
Note/disclosure: I felt so fortunate to be a guest on the Cheese Journeys UK tour with leader Anna Juhl. I had an incredible time, and I highly recommend one of her upcoming cheese tours in 2016.
On November 7, 2015 I’m hosting one of my favorite collaborators, Johanna Kindvall — creator of the illustrated food blog, Kokblog. You, dear readers, are invited to join us chez moi for a late afternoon Fika, the subject of her latest book (fika is the Swedish coffee hour). We’re designing a cozy gathering in my Fishtown-neighborhood cheese salon, complete with coffee, mulled wine, ginger cookies and other Swedish baked goods, plus a luscious cheese board. Johanna is also going to use my kitchen to demonstrate one of her recipes.
We have 15 spots for this special gathering. Johanna will have books and prints of her work for sale, as will I, so this could be your chance to do a little holiday shopping. The real reason for the party, though, is simply to bring people together. After all, Johanna and I have never met in person (though we Skype), and we’re excited to meet up and host a little book party..
If you’re a cheese lover, blogger, aspiring food writer, illustrator, or just a delightful bird with a yen for cheese and cookies, please join us!
November 7, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.
327 E. Thompson St., Phila 19125
$20 person (click green button below for a link!)
A Little Background on Johanna
Johanna Kindvall is a blogger and illustrator from Sweden who lives in Brooklyn. Her latest book is Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break, with Recipes for Breads, Pastries, and Other Treats (Ten Speed Press, 2015), by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall. Paste Magazine calls it “a baking book mixed with etiquette how-to and cultural know-how, iced with a calendar of holidays and expressed as a work of illustrated art. “
Last year, Johanna and I created a series to illustrate the seasonality of cheese. Her illustrations capture both the fanciful and functional nature of cheese, making her one of my favorite dairy conspirators.
Your Spring Goat Cheese Primer (Part 1)
Tips for a Late Summer Cheese Board (Part 2)
Smoke and Funk: A Fall Cheese Board (Part 3)
Winter Blues Pairing Party (Part 4)
Note: the ticket cost for this event will sponsor Johanna’s transportation to Philadelphia and be put toward the cost of delicious fare.
Friends, I spend a lot of time on this site gushing. I gush about the cheeses of my dreams as I discover them. I gush about new cheesemakers who enter my orbit. But I almost never break away from my freaky dairy adoration to talk about what I do at work, which is this: I teach writing.
That’s right. I’m not a cheesemonger. I read for a living — good writing and uninspired writing. My goal? To push the good writers to write more, and to spark those who are uninspired to pluck more vibrant observations from the trees.
A couple weeks ago, I spoke to a group of Communications majors at Saint Joseph’s University about how to write a compelling blog post. As I was jotting my tips down on the back of a cheese wrapper, it occurred to me that maybe you’d find them useful. Whether you blog as a monger, maker, or marketer, may you find a few juicy bits here. After seven years of cheese blogging, here are the tips I lean on…
1. Imagine that your next post is going to get you a job/earn you a ribbon/inspire someone to mail you a surprise. Once your post goes live, it becomes the portal through which strangers discover you on Google. If it’s unforgettable, people will salivate. And follow your every crumb.
2. Visualize hundreds of people at desks (or in fields!) reading your post. How can you keep them from standing up to get a donut or becoming more interested in a cloud? Can you take them on a fascinating journey through some part of your world? Teach them new information?
3. Start your post with a fiercely interesting title – one that issues an invitation or a promise. Like “Enter My Cheese Cave for a Sneak Peek of X” (Invitation.) Or, “Three Tips for Successful Team Building Behind the Cheese Counter” (Promise.)
4. Sniff out what’s interesting about your work. When you are stirring curds/wrapping wedges/riding the subway to Murray’s, jot down a list of possible posts — The Cheese That Changed Everything, What I Learned from Pairing Cheese with Absinthe, etc. Jot down titles of things you would like to explore so that you can begin to gather the details.
5. Snap photos and record your observations. Carry a notebook or use a note on your phone where you store ideas for posts. If you enter the day looking for story ideas, you’re going to see possibilities everywhere you look.
6. Write a first draft, then wait. For crying out loud, don’t hit “publish” on a first draft. Sketch out your post, then come back after dinner, preferably with a little digestif, and proofread. As a little challenge, I often look for 3 verbs I can make more interesting. Then I try to add a specific image or two that will be memorable. (Like the donut, the absinthe.)
7. Lay out your post with care – as if you were preparing a room for a special guest. (Who wants to open a post that looks like a cluttered bedroom?) Use whitespace, boldface, bullets. Layer in your best photos and keep them all the same size, preferably on the large side. A busy screen makes readers feel jumpy, overwhelmed.
8. Keep your paragraphs short and give them lots of whitespace. An easy-to-read post looks like a long line of fortune-cookie fortunes. Or a chain of islands.
9. Proofread before you post. Show it to your mother. Show it to your grandmother.
10. Publish what you’re proud of, and the karma comes back two-fold. Good posts open doors. Great posts open even bigger doors.
Photo credit: Aimee Knight